First, a little background on Fabian Johnson.
Among the many German-raised players Jurgen Klinsmann brought into the U.S. national team, Johnson was especially intriguing. He was part of Germany’s 2009 U-21 European Championship title-winning squad, playing in a midfield alongside future World Cup winners Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil on a team that also included 2014 world champions Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng and Benedikt Howedes.
His German national career hit the skids after his $3.5 million transfer from second division 1860 Munich to VfL Wolfsburg at age 21. Johnson didn’t start consistently after joining the defending Bundesliga champion.
“After the European Championship, it was quite a hard time for me,” he told me last June. “In two years, I played only 16 games, and that’s not enough for a player who wants to play in the national team.”
Especially a national team on the rise like Germany at the time. When Johnson rebounded impressively with Hoffenheim, he got a call from Klinsmann.
Johnson grew up in Munich speaking German to his mother and English to his father, Charles Johnson, a U.S. serviceman who played basketball for Bayern Munich.
Of the U.S. national team’s Germans during the Klinsmann era, only Jermaine Jones has worn the jersey more than Johnson’s 40 times. Klinsmann said he was the best right back at the 2014 World Cup.
And on Monday, Klinsmann sent Johnson packing. Klinsmann was upset that Johnson asked to be subbed the 111th minute of the USA’s game against Mexico with the score tied 2-2.
"I had a very severe word with Fabian Johnson, and I sent him home today," Klinsmann said. "He can rethink his approach about his team."
This is the exchange Klinsmann said took place along the sideline where he was standing and Johnson was operating: “He said he couldn't go anymore and I reacted to it and obviously and made the substitution. He just feared to possibly get an injury, but he was not injured in that moment. He got all stiffened up. It's a muscle issue. It's normal."
After nearly two hours on a backline under constant pressure -- Mexico had 63 percent of the possession -- Johnson called for a sub because he felt his muscles tightening up. What could possibly be the downside of bringing in fresh legs at this stage of the game? After all, Johnson looked to be a liability in overtime, having trailed badly on the play that led to Oribe Peralta's goal that had momentarily put Mexico ahead 2-1.
Klinsmann said he wanted to save a sub in case of penalty kicks to replace Brad Guzan with Nick Rimando.
Guzan is actually darn good at saving penalty kicks. Back in 2009, he famously saved three shootout attempts and a regulation PK in an Aston Villa FA Cup victory.
So as the USA tries to bounce back from the major loss on Saturday -- a 3-2 defeat without PKs -- the starting goalkeeper knows that his coach doesn’t trust him in a shootout and the team’s best outside back has been humiliated by the coach's implication that he’s a quitter.
Again, Klinsmann’s account is Johnson “said he couldn't go anymore.”
Why in the world would Johnson say that if it wasn’t how he really felt?
It sounds like a player who’s worried he's a liability and is asking to be subbed for the good of the team.